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Could it happen here?
My brother got a Dampfmaschine (German for a steam engine) as a gift when he was a kid. The point of it, I guess, was to see the inner workings of an engine in action - to see how you can create steam if you add water and fire to a contained system.
It was about the diameter of a dinner plate, and we set it at the end of the dining room table and circled around it, propped up on our elbows. The directions came in German, so my dad read them, and then set about pouring the water into it and adjusting the nozzles, narrating the instructions as he went.
True to its name, the Dampfmaschine did create steam, but it also started to sputter and burp, and with each noise came an attendant hop, until the thing was making its way across the table, seemingly with its own plan.
As my family took in the spectacle of its huffing and puffing, I felt a cold sop of anxiety cover my small body. In my mind, I could see us from the other side of the room, and I was sure we were doing something wrong. Did we know enough about engines? About steam? Would this thing explode on us? I had heard about the grandmothers who had lost their faces to faulty pressure cookers. There were lots of them in post-war Vienna.
I knew this was just a small thing, on a dining room table, but I couldn’t shake the feeling. Mostly, I was convinced that we were out of our depth. Why was everyone laughing?
My boyfriend walks up beside the bed, clutching the cat in his arms, whose REM sleep is consistently interrupted by being asked to perform ministrations for his greedy humans. Despite my unconditional devotion to him, the cat hates me, and usually starts to struggle at the sight of me. This time, like all times, he starts kicking his hind legs and slithers out of my boyfriend’s arms, recoiling as he lands on my hip bone covered by the duvet and leaping off the bed in frenetic zig zags.
I’m napping, I report, at the wall. I have all my clothes on.
You don’t look like you’re sleeping, my boyfriend gently notices.
Well I can’t nap, because I’m too worried. What’s going to happen on November 4th? Everything is bad and nothing is good.
He reminds me that there are good things, even though there are many, many bad things.
You can’t just nap until November 4th.
I know, “there’s no free lunch!”, I sing, without mirth.
Our dog is old. She’s on diuretics for her heart, which means she now pees near-constantly, and for the first few weeks, did so on everything in the house. To avoid churning through multiple loads of laundry a day, we learned to take her out at the speed of a reflex, if we so much as consider that it might be time. We live in the country now, in the silence, amongst the trees.
I take her out every morning, immediately after opening my eyes. It’s already cold up here, so I zip my jacket on, on top of a sweatshirt, over my pyjama top. There’s never anyone out there anyway.
We usually stand in the road, staring at the mist hanging in the trees. She likes the sides of the road, where the smells live in the leaves and the grasses. I don’t mind, either way.
I’ve started to notice a phenomenon though: it sounds like rain is pouring down on the leaves of the trees on both sides of the road, while the pavement in the middle stays dry. Also, the leaves stay dry, despite the apparent rain.
Sometimes I drag her into the road, so that I can put my hand out and look up at the sky, in search of the water. We stand there, peering back and forth at the leaves on either side of the road, as if we’re at a tennis match of molasses. We listen to the steady pitter patter descending, but we can’t figure it out. Eventually we stand ourselves out, so we go back inside.
On other days, the air is so still it holds us upright, slowing the sway from our leftover slumber. Great Danes don’t bark, unless there is sensed danger. Sometimes, she plants her feet, and staring at the end of the road, where it curves, barks, short and hard, into the fading darkness. The barks fall back on her in the hollow air, and I plant my feet too, and point my face in the same direction as her face, searching for the thing.
She keeps barking, and the fur along her spine stiffens, and the more she barks, the quieter it gets, and I start to wonder if she’s warning me that the huffing and puffing thing is sputtering its way toward us, around the bend, and soon, will be coming down our road, on our street, in our town, in our country.
And then the pitter patter starts again, in the trees.
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